2nd August 1919 Saturday

A Jittery Time in Archangel and Solombola

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“Saturday, August 2nd, was a day of terrific ‘wind-up’ with us. G.H.Q. spies had informed us that this was the day on which the British, especially the officers were to be wiped off the map! Our Commanding Officer was in a terrific state of alarm! He had convalescent patients busy for several days beforehand putting up barbed wire entanglements all round the hospital. On our mess balcony a sand-bagged machine-gun emplacement was built, and armed sentries were posted all over the place. These men didn’t know how to handle a rifle, and I quaked when I passed them by even in daylight. We were all put through a course of machine-gun drill, but I’m afraid none of us would have been of much use with the gun, if the necessity had arisen. Lt. Commander Richardson, my naval friend, was in charge of a hospital ship, ‘The London Belle’. lying off Solombola ready to take all our patients on board if necessary. American sailors, armed to the teeth, patrolled the streets all day, and British armoured cars dashed about at top speed. Archangel was deserted, many civilians having fled to the country, fearing trouble. Of course nothing happened. Some of the red-tabs at G.H.Q. must have a guilty conscience!”

Commander Richardson* our heroic naval character was in command of the paddle steamer London Belle at this time. This was a remarkable thing because she was such a tiny vessel. Tiny, but the Navy realised that it was exactly what they needed on the treacherously difficult Dwina. Frozen for eight months of the long winter, the summer was equally demanding. The water level steadily dropped throughout the hot summer making navigation for all but almost flat bottomed boats impossible and small paddle steamers with their low draft were ideally suited. The added difficulty would have been sailing the tiny craft on such a long journey from its home waters of London’s Thames to Archangel. It must have taxed the coal fuel capacity to its limits.

London Belle was launched on the 10th March 1893 by William Denny Bros. of Dumbarton for the London, Woolwich and Clacton-on-the-Sea Steamboat Company Ltd.,  She was built for use as a passenger steamer on the River Thames as an alternative to the railways for journeys to Southend and Clacton, becoming popular with day trippers, leaving Fresh Wharf at 09.30 daily.  Fresh Wharf was situated on the north side of the Thames between Tower and London bridges. It closed in 1970.

The London Belle at 738 grt tons was the largest of the steamers used on this service. Even though she was over 280 ft (85.5 mtrs) in length, it was still a tenth of the size of the Kalyan. The Navy requisitioned her for use as a minesweeper in 1916 before returning her to her then owner the Coastal Development Corporation Ltd. in May 1919 only to take her straight back and send her to Archangel for use as a hospital ship.

She was eventually demobilised in 1920. Eventually being broken up on the Thames in 1929.

London Belle passing under Tower Bridge en-route down river. (An uncredited postcard)

London Belle passing under Tower Bridge en-route down river. (An uncredited postcard)

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

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